STATE COLLEGE - Twelve days after ESPN televised an "Outside the Lines" report that was highly critical of the Penn State football program, coach Joe Paterno said he still hadn't seen the segment and didn't plan to include it in his videotape library any time soon. But he did finally address the controversy that continues to hang over the Nittany Lions like smog over the Beijing Olympics.
"Maybe half of it's right," Paterno said in acknowledging "mistakes" he might have made in dealing with players who ran afoul of the law. But Paterno said he also believed ESPN's Steve Delsohn, who researched and reported the piece, did so with the intent on depicting Penn State in the least favorable light possible.
"I guess my gripe with 'Outside the Lines' would be that they didn't really try to get both sides," Paterno said. "I think [ESPN] exploited a couple of things."
With the season opener against Coastal Carolina 22 days away, Paterno, addressing reporters at Penn State's annual media day, clearly would have preferred to restrict his comments to how the Nits were shaping up on the field after 4 days of practice. But the 81-year-old coaching legend has been around long enough to know that attempting to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room doesn't necessarily mean it will go away.
Delsohn's investigation revealed that, since 2002, 46 Penn State players have faced 163 criminal charges. Twenty-seven of those players have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to a combined 45 counts.
But Paterno, while not disputing those figures, said Delsohn had an agenda and ignored or downplayed some of his responses that might have softened the impact on a program that has always prided itself on doing things the right way.
"The guy [Delsohn] asked me some questions," said Paterno, who was interviewed for the 'OTL' piece. "He said some football players told him they [were prevented from] talking to the people at Judicial Affairs. I said, 'Who are those players?' He gave no names.
"I get sick and tired of people saying 'anonymous,' 'no names,' 'a source.' I mean, he said I sent [those unidentified players] a text message. I don't even know how to send a text message. I've never had a text message come to me.
"That kind of stuff bothered me a little bit. But I can't walk away from the fact we had some kids who did something wrong."
Two players who already were under suspension, defensive tackles Chris Baker and Philip Taylor, were dismissed from the squad 3 days after the "OTL" segment was televised, creating the impression that they were let go in reaction to it.
Not so, insisted JoePa.
"Absolutely not," Paterno said when asked if Baker and Taylor were sent packing for the purposes of damage control.
So why were they released from their scholarships?
"The reasons I dismissed Taylor and Baker are reasons that the squad knows," Paterno said while declining to elaborate. "I feel comfortable that it was the right decision."
Paterno said he has received strong support from many of his former players, 120-plus of whom were on campus last weekend for a golf outing.
"They're all proud to have been Penn State football players," Paterno stressed.
On the practice field, where current players donned their game uniforms for photo-ops and interview requests, the "OTL" piece was a hot topic that received mixed reviews.
"I watched it three or four times," said redshirt freshman running back Stephfon Green. "I really don't have an opinion about some of the things that happened. They happened. We're human, we make mistakes, we learn from them and go on with our lives."
Senior safety Anthony Scirrotto, one of five captains for the 2008 season, was a central figure in an April 1, 2007, incident that was cited in the "OTL" piece. He said he is doing his best to put it, and its lingering effects, behind him.
"I didn't actually see it when it played because I was driving back to school," Scirrotto said. "But I took a peek at it on the Internet. I turned it off within, like, 2 minutes. It's no good for anybody to watch stuff like that."
But Scirrotto said his brush with the law - he was suspended from the university for the second summer semester of 2007 - was a contributing factor in his reduced effectiveness last season. He went from leading the Big Ten in interceptions and earning first-team all-conference honors in 2006 to being named honorable mention All-Big Ten in '07.
"I had some problems," Scirrotto said. "It wasn't just the law stuff. My grandmother [Linda Caucci] died in the middle of the season, just before the Michigan game. I was very close to her. As much as I hate to admit it, I wasn't as mentally focused on the football field."
"I've put all that other stuff behind me," he said. "I learned a lot, but now it's over. I don't think about it at all anymore. I took a step back, but I'm trying to get back to where I was."
Paterno said he also thinks it's time to leave what belongs in the past.
"I second-guess myself all the time," he admitted. "Maybe I didn't do the best job I could. But whether I handled some kids right or wrong, it's done." *